For all its chaotic traffic and frenzied pace, Bangkok is a cosmopolitan city in every sense. Exhausting, yet rejuvenating, Bangkok has a remarkable history and is home to a food culture unlike any other in Asia. Its sophisticated, yet gritty atmosphere is what makes it so addictive to travelers. Visitors often experience polarizing feelings towards Bangkok, hating it one minute then loving it the next. For those of you who have never been, or feel like you hardly scratched the surface the first time around, here are my top 10 recommendations of things to see and do in Bangkok – a city that I love!
Marvel at the Grand Palace
The Grand Palace (Wat Pra Kaew) is Thailand’s top tourist attraction and the first of many things to do in Bangkok, which is how it landed on our list of 15 Places You Must See in Thailand. The Grand Palace complex was established by King Rama I in 1782, and has since been expanded by subsequent royals. This impressive self-sustaining city covers an area of 218,000 square meters and is surrounded by thick outer walls.
The complex has several sections, which include residences, temples, government buildings, ceremonial areas, and a priceless works of art. Highlights include the gilded architecture and Royal Monastery of the Emerald Buddha. The Grand Palace is open everyday 9:30 a.m. to 3:15 p.m. Tickets are available until 3 p.m. Admission is 400 THB.
How to get there: Take Chao Phraya Express Boat to Pier 9 (Chang Pier).
Admire the Architecture at Wat Arun
Wat Arun is known as the “Temple of Dawn” and is one of Bangkok’s most important religious sites. Located along the west bank of the Chao Praya River, Wat Arun stands out because of its impressive architecture. The temple’s central prang (tower) has five tiers and rises over 200 feet. Every tier is encrusted with colorful hand painted porcelain, and among the mosaics are guardian and animal figures.
Around the main prang are smaller prangs, as well as six Chinese-style pavilions and the Ordination Hall guarded by two Thotsakan, or giant green guardian figures. Wat Arun is also a spectacle to observe at night; the prangs are brightly lighted against the night sky. Wat Arun is open daily 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is 30 BHT.
How to get there: Take Chao Phraya Express Boat to Pier 8 (Tien Pier).
See the Reclining Buddha at Wat Pho
Wat Pho is the birthplace of the traditional Thai massage. The site served as a traditional medicine education center and in 1962 a massage school was established here. Wat Pho is also the oldest temple in Bangkok (16th century) and houses the largest reclining Buddha statue in Thailand (46 meters long and 15 meters high). The Wat Pho complex consists of a chapel and monks’ quarters.
The chapel features several murals about the Buddha’s life, ancient weaponry, zodiac symbols, and spiritual battles. It is also where the reclining Buddha is housed. The gilded Buddha has its eyes and soles of its feet made of mother of pearl. The feet have 108 good luck “laksanas” or inscriptions engraved across them. Wat Pho is open daily 8 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Admission is 100 THB (will be 200 THB beginning January 1, 2015).
How to get there: Take Chao Phraya Express Boat to Pier 8 (Tien Pier).
Bangkok’s Chinatown is a feast for the senses. As tuk-tuks race by in a hurry, the residents take a leisurely pace. The neighborhood is a sprawling district of residential buildings, clothing bazaars, jewelry shops, street-side restaurants, and sidewalk food carts. Chinatown is one of Bangkok’s oldest neighborhoods and has historically been a commercial district of predominantly Chinese immigrants.
Nowadays it’s a tourist attraction and great place to eat (your guessed it) Chinese food! Yaowarat Road and Songwat Road are two of Chinatown’s main streets. Yaowarat has over 132 gold shops and for this is nicknamed “the Golden Street.” Here you will also find traditional Chinese restaurants, ranging from pricy to very cheap.
How to get there: Take the MRT to Hua Lamphong Station or Chao Phraya Express Boat to Pier 5 (Ratchawongse Pier).
Score Bargains at the Chatuchak Weekend Market
Said to be the world’s largest weekend market, Chatuchak lives up to its reputation. This massive flea market covers an area of 27 acres and contains more than 15,000 vendors selling everything from plants to antiques, and finger foods to clothing. Even if you don’t plan on shopping, strolling through Chatuchak is an adventure in itself. It’s also a great place to come and eat.
Over 400 food vendors, some with carts and others with table-and-chair set-ups, are serving up Thai specialties and refreshing desserts. At Chatuchak no prices are fixed, which means you can find great bargains on things you need. The market takes place Saturday and Sunday 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.
How to get there: Take the BTS Sky Train to Mo Chit Station (Sukhumvit line) or the MRT to Chatuchak Park Station.
Have Your Noodle Fix in Boat Noodle Alley
Boat Noodle Alley at Victory Monument is located on the road heading towards Phahon Yothin. This is perhaps one of Bangkok’s most amazing culinary gems, and it’s tucked away behind an apartment complex and small street market. According to Mark Wiens of Eating Thai Food, the noodles get their name from being sold from boats in Bangkok’s former extensive network of canals. Each bowl is small, containing a couple bites of pork (Kuay teow sen lek moo) or beef (Kuay teow sen lek neua), rice noodles, and a few sips of tasty broth.
Customers typically order several bowls, which results in towers of stacked bowls one every table. A single bowl costs 10 THB (about .30 ¢). If you want to try delicious new local foods, we highly recommend you come! There are two restaurants here, head into the one on your right. This is the best one. Boat Noodle Alley is open every day for lunch and dinner (until 9 p.m.) Here’s our episode on Boat Noodle Alley.
How to get there: Take BTS Sky Train to Victory Monument Station.
Spoil Your Taste Buds at CÉ LA VI
I had already dined at KU DÉ TA Singapore, which only whet my appetite for more. Spread across the 39th and 40th floors of the Sathorn Square high rise in the heart of the city, CÉ LA VI (formerly KU DÉ TA) is a unique dining and entertainment complex with seven bars, two nightclubs, and extraordinary restaurants. Here you can enjoy a delicious (and equally as gorgeous) menu of oysters, cooked fish, raw fish, crab, and tempura. Highlights for me were the oyster tiradito, yellowtail with chilli, grouper with pear, and assorted tempura with dipping sauces.
The sweet, spicy, bold, and delicate qualities of each individual dish made for a harmonious tasting menu and a one-of-a-kind dining experience. After Chef Maza’s work was done, in came Head Pastry Chef Jason Licker with a plate of sinful, decadent desserts. Next time you find yourself in Bangkok, do yourself a favor and splurge on an unforgettable meal at CÉ LA VI Bangkok’s Signature Restaurant for an exceptional gastronomic experience. Your taste buds will be forever grateful.
How to get there: Take the BTS Sky Train to Chong Nonsi Station (Silom line) and cross the street to Sathorn Square.
Visit Khlong Lat Mayom Floating Market
Dining at one of Thailand’s floating markets is a special way of experiencing the local food culture. Lucky for us there’s a great floating market in Bangkok called Khlong Lat Mayom that is less touristy than the popular Damnoen Saduak outside the city. The relaxed and peaceful vibe of Khlong Lat Mayom is best for those who want to sit back and take it all in – the sights, sounds, and smells. Like most markets in Thailand, this is a great place to try some local specialties.
Our advice: hire a boat to take you around comfortably to see the goods under the shade of the thatched roofs. Everything from papaya salad and palm cake (Kanom Tarn), to fresh fruit and fish curry is being sold here. Make sure you bring cash and a camera! Khlong Lat Mayom is a weekend market and is open Saturdays and Sundays 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Get there as early as possible to avoid too much boat traffic on the canal.
How to get there: Hop in a taxi from BTS Skytrain Wang Wian Yai Station and tell the driver to go to Talat Nam Khlong Lat Mayom. The taxi should only cost around 100 THB.
Explore the Bustling Wang Lang Market
Near the Grand Palace complex is one of the city’s best places to try southern Thai cuisine, Wang Lang. While this market may not draw in hoards of tourist crowds, it is popular with locals in search of tasty street snacks and second-hand clothing.
Wear comfortable shoes to weave through the crowded narrow aisles in search of the perfect roasted pork (muu daeng yang) or Thai crepes with sweet coconut filling. Crispy pork belly with stink beans (pad sataw muu thawt) is a traditional southern Thai dish that is found here as well. Wang Lang Market is open daily 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
How to get there: Take Chao Praya Express Boat to Pier 10 (Wang Lang Pier).
Sip Cocktails With a Bird’s Eye View of Bangkok
Bangkok’s amazing evening cityscape provides the perfect backdrop to dinner and drinks. There are several bars with views in Bangkok. Of these, Moon Bar shines as one of the best. Located on the 61st floor of the Banyan Tree Hotel on Sathorn Road, this bar offers sweeping views of the Bangkok skyline.
Though on the pricy side, you’ll be 200 meters above the city in a beautiful and contemporary open-air setting. If you get hungry, Moon Bar offers an outstanding menu of grilled meats and seafood.
How to get there: Take BTS Sky Train to Saphan Taksin Station (Silom line).
Where to Stay
There are several hotels in Bangkok to choose from. Whichever you decide on, make sure to stay near a Sky Train stop so you can easily get around the city. I recommend the Pullman Bangkok Hotel G because it’s a 7-minute walk from the Chong Nonsi Sky Train station, an 11-minute walk from the Patpong red light district and only 3 km from the MBK Center’s shops. Rates start at $100 per night.
Bangkok has multiple ways of getting around thanks to a vast system of public transport. The city’s three modes of affordable transportation for tourists are:
BTS Sky Train: Above-ground metro system that runs daily 6 a.m. to midnight. There are two BTS Sky Train lines, Sukhumvit (runs north to south) and Silom (runs east to west). Together they cover 35 stops. BTS Sky Train ticket prices range from 15 – 52 THB for a single journey ticket, or 130 THB for an unlimited journey day pass.
MRT: Underground metro system that runs daily from 6 a.m. to midnight. Tickets can be purchased at the counter or at the vending machines. Prices, which can range from 15 to 40 THB for a single journey ticket, are determined by number of stops. You must select your destination before paying. The MRT has only one line with 18 stations.
Chao Phraya Express Boats: This ferry system stops at pier stations on both sides of the Chao Praya River. There are three lines: orange (slow), green (fast), and yellow (fastest). Each line makes a different number of stops. Ticket prices depend on the line you take and your destination pier (15 – 29 THB). A one-day pass is 150 THB.
For more information about getting around, please see the official Transit Bangkok website.
If you love Thailand as much as we do, tell us about your favorite things to see and do in Bangkok! Leave us a comment below.